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Fiction

Lab Rats: Scene IV

A six-part play from the LabLit fiction series

Robin Plevin 17 February 2008

www.lablit.com/article/353

You corrupt bastards. What won’t you do to get to the top of the science heap? Who wouldn’t you fuck over to get your name on the next Nature paper?

Editor’s note: We are pleased to present the fourth episode of a six-part lab play by Professor Robin Plevin about the sins and secrets of a group of university researchers in Scotland.

Act II – Scene 1 – Discussion

(The coffee room three months later. Containing a set of cushioned chairs with a tea urn, a fridge and tables. James is sleeping on a chair. Eddie is sitting having a smoke and Jean is wiping the tables.)

James: (waking up) Oh shit!

Jean: Now, now son, less oh the bad language. You know, you should just bring in your bed in and have done wi it. Eddie found you when he came on his rounds but he left you sleeping.

James: I wish he would just wake me up. He’ll get in trouble if his boss comes round.

Jean: Ah git face, he’s on holiday for a fortnight. Anyway, Eddie thinks you’re a good laddie, don’t you, Eddie?

Eddie: For a student.

Jean: Aye, but he knows your no a student. You’ve got your thesis, haven’t you, son.

James: Yes, for what it’s worth…You look tanned, Jean.

Jean: Just back fae ma holidays. Two weeks in Benidorm. It was magic. Sunshine aw’day and a beach as far as you could see. Lying by the pool sunbathing and getting cocktails served up by some Luigi wi a tight arse. Oh, an ma man, he was rampant. The sun had done something tae his hormones. Acted like he’d never had a shag afore. Not that I was complainin’. I’ve been walking like John Wayne since ah got back.

James: I wondered what that horse was doing tied up by the front door.

Jean: Dinnae you be cheeky or I’ll hit ye with ma hoover.

James: Promises, promises.

Jean: Hey, just because I’m married, son, don’t think I cannae take ye into ma broom cupboard and show you a thing or two.

James: Oh, an older woman…now there’s a tempting prospect.

Jean: Old!

James: Sorry, I meant to say mature.

Eddie: Don’t chance it, son. I’ve seen these older women in action. Eat you alive, thighs that’ll crush you to death.

James: Oh, I’m willing to take a chance.

Jean: I’ll ge ye chance. Anyway, you should stick to girls your own age. What happened with you and Cathy? She’s an awfully nice lassie.

James: (slightly embarrassed) Oh, I don’t really know…things just didn’t work out. (hurriedly looking for an excuse) Nobody’s fault…these late nights didn’t help, I suppose.

Jean: Aye, well son, you can’t do much together if you’re in here all the time. You work too hard son, far too hard. There’s got to be more to life than all this scientific research. You may be tryin’ to cure the world but it’s makin you ill.

James: Maybe you’ve got something there, Jean.

Jean: Of course I have. It’s cau’ed common sense. You academic types, youse cannae see what’s staring you in the face. Anyway, I’ll see you later. (Exit Jean)

(Eddie remains looking slightly pensive)

Eddie: Just to say thanks for that pens and pads for my laddie.

James: No problem, Eddie.

Eddie: I tell ye he likes to draw.

James: Is he good?

Eddie: Oh man, some of the stuff…I’ll have to bring it in and show ye. He draws a face and it’s the real thing. It’s amazin’. He did a picture of Elvis for me, copied it off one of ma CDs. I thought he was making another comeback. I don’t know where he gets it from. Cannae be fae me, I couldnae draw for toffee. Must be his mother.

James: Sounds like a bit of a talent. Is he going to art school?

Eddie: Art school?

James:Yes, here in Glasgow. Glasgow Art School?

Eddie: To be honest I’ve never thought about it. It doesnae seem much of a trade.

James: Eddie, art’s not just about cutting a sheep’s head in two and putting it in vinegar. You can do design, ceramics, graphics, all sorts of stuff. One night we can look it up on the web and get a prospectus.

Eddie: I really dinnae think…

James: Eddie, its not you that should be doing the thinking. It’s your boy. What does he say about it?

Eddie: I know he wants to be a painter…artist.

James: Well there you go, then. Ask him. And if it’s okay by him, we can look up the Art School prospectus on the web and see what highers he needs.

Eddie: Okay, I’ll ask him. I got to go. Thanks son, you’re no a bad laddie.

James: For a student.

Eddie: No, for anyone.

(Exit Eddie)

(James gets some coffee and sits down. Simon and Cathy come in. They see James and look guilty. They continue making coffee.)

James: There’s milk in the fridge at the bottom. The big carton. (They sit down across from James) It’s a bit of an early start for you two. (quietly) Fuck! (laughs at his own stupidity) Sorry, I should have realised, I’m so slow on the uptake. Well what can I say except I hope you’ll both be happy. When did this happen…or aren’t you the types that tell?

Cathy: It’s none of your business.

(silence)

James: Where is beloved Noreen, I thought she started early or so she keeps telling everyone.

Cathy: She’s away at a conference instead of Mike. The baby’s ill or something so he couldn’t go. Noreen took his plane ticket and went to give the talk.

James: What, Mike putting his family before his career? Well that’s a revelation, missing a chance to brown tongue the big boys.

Simon: Leave him alone. I’ve had enough of you running him down all the time.

James: Oh, that’s so understanding considering he sent Noreen instead of you. That puts you well down in the laboratory pecking order, especially for the lectureship.

Simon: But still well above you.

James: Ah, you’ve got me there,wide boy. Can I call you wide boy? It suits you so well. You know you’re pretty savage when you get going. Like an rabid chihuahua...You can do better than that, wide boy. Where’s that sharp London wit? Come on, use some on me.

(Simon makes a move towards James as if to physically confront him)

Cathy: Simon, don’t!

(Del Boy and Sandra comes in and Simon and James both back off )

James: Ah, the cavalry. All right, Del Boy?

Derek: Hi.

Cathy: Hi Del, Hi Sandra.

James: Simon, aren’t you going to say good morning to Derek. I think you should. And from now on you should be much nicer to Del Boy.

Simon: Why’s that?

James: Because your career in science depends upon it. Del Boy thinks he’s found the problem, haven’t you, Del?

Del: Mmm aye.

Simon: What problem?

James: How you got the experiments to work and he didn’t.

Simon: And what might that be?

James: Spike the tubes.

Simon: What do you mean?

James: You know…with radiation.

Simon: (realising he’s been found out) What are you blabbering on about, spiking fucking tubes – what’s that meant to imply?

James: Oh, I don’t know Simon, but I think you do. And you’re not going to bullshit your way out of this one.

Simon: What do you mean, spike the tubes, what are you trying to say?

James: Simon, the game’s up – you’ve been found out

(Mike comes in with Professor Liley, head of department)

Mike: (to James) I got your e-mail, what is this all about? Extremely urgent, a case of scientific fraud in my laboratory. What are you talking about? Is this some sort of bad joke?

James: No unfortunately, it’s…Ah I see you brought the head of the department. Very wise, always good to have some backup. Professor Liley, you’ll be most intrigued to hear with what I’ve got to say. Or what rather myself and Derek have got to say.

Liley: (To Cathy and Sandra) You’d better leave us….

Mike: And you as well, Simon.

James Don’t let Simon leave. After all, he’s the one that this is all about. And I think other members of the lab have a right to hear what we’ve got to say since it may affect them too.

Liley: Okay. Stay if you wish. (They sit down)

James: Well, I’ve been doing some work with Del Boy, Derek – you know, Mike, the experiments Simon did but Derek couldn’t repeat. We think we worked out the reasons why. (takes it out of his pocket) This little scintillation vial.

(They all look very uncomfortably at one other) I thought it was quite important to get things right, don’t you agree, Mike? Make sure the data is actually accurate. (turning to Liley) Anyway, after multiple failures to repeat Simon’s work we found this on his bench. A tube full of radioactivity. Now what would that be doing out on a bench when all the radioactive work is done down the corridor in the radioactive room? It’s quite simple, really – he uses it to spike the tubes to get the right result.

Simon: This is absolutely astonishing, Mike. It’s laughable, fucking laughable!

James: Oh is it, Simon? We’ve watched you. You do it for virtually all your experiments. Spike the tubes. (turns to Mike) Come on Mike, it’s obvious if you think about it. Have you every noticed how Simon always gets the right result. And not just with Derek’s experiments. I mean all the time. What’s the probability of that? All that biological variation, reagents going off, mistakes and yet the right result every time. Or at least the result you want him to get.

Liley: Simon, do you know anything about this vial?

Simon: I don’t have any vial of radioactivity on my desk, and if I did it’s easy to see who put it there.

James: Oh come on, Simon. You did it. Be honest for once. Mike, we even know how much he takes out – 200 microlitres. We’ve watched him do it. And low and behold the perfect answer every time. Isn’t that right, Simon?

Simon: I didn’t take anything out of any vial. Mike, you can’t believe this crap. I worked so hard for you. All those papers and ideas for grants. He’s saying your ideas are shit, Mike. That’s what…

Liley: Please be quiet, Simon.

James: See Simon, they’re turning against you.

Liley: We’re not turning against anybody.

James: Del Boy will back me up. He’s seen the vial and knows how much has been taken out. He’s even watched him in the radioactive room pipetting different amount of liquid into his tubes.

Liley: Is that right, Derek?

Del: Aye, but...

Liley: But what?

Del: (pause) Nothing. I have seen it. He puts it the tubes.

James: Convinced?

Liley: Del b..Derek. Do you like Simon?

Del: Well, er not really. He’s always slaggin’ me off and that.

Liley: Evidently solid enough reasons to make up these accusations.

James: Oh, please.

Liley: And your motivation is quite apparent.

James: What?

Liley: Well it seems that, and I don’t want to be the one to say it, that there is a rivalry between you and Simon over a girl in the laboratory.

James: What, Cathy? What has she got to do with Simon forging his results?

Simon: I didn’t forge anything!

Liley: Quite a lot it seems. The scientific world is full of jealous rivalries. James, I am very disappointed in you. You have made a serious accusation about Simon based on finding a tube of radioactivity on his bench. No-one knows how it got there and what it might have been used for. It is quite obvious that you are jealous of Simon’s abilities and success and have decided to cast a doubt over his results in an attempt to damage his career. And as part of that strategy you have recruited Del Boy in your scheme who – forgive me, Derek – is sadly nothing more than a naïve participant in this debacle. And as head of the department, I can’t have that. Derek, I believe that your future in this department including, may I add, your PhD, is in serious doubt if you persist with this accusation.

James: Don’t listen Del, they’re trying to blackmail us.

Liley: If you persist in this accusation, Derek. Do I make myself clear?

James: Look Del boy, listen to me. We can take this higher up in the University. Don’t let them intimidate you.

Liley: Well, Derek?

James: Del Boy. Don’t.

Liley: Derek?

(pause)

Del: I’ve got to get back to my experiments. (gets up and walks out)

James: (shouts) Del! (James moves after him and turns back enraged) You snake, you low life, Liley.

Liley: And on top of all of this I find out you’ve been stealing materials from the laboratory.

James: What are you on about?

Liley: I have been notified that you have stolen roles of toilet paper and alcohol.

James: What? They’re for Jean, so she can clean the marks on the doors.

Liley: I have also been told pens, pencils and A4 paper have gone missing from the stationery cupboard.

James: Jesus Christ, they’re for Eddie’s laddie. It was a wee gift. What, and you haven’t done the same before? Give me a break.

Liley: Given these revelations, I think it would be very wise if you dropped this petty accusation of fraud. Or we will have no alternative but to take this matter up with the University. Do you agree, Michael?

Mike: (looking down) Yes.

Liley: This is stupid and irresponsible behaviour. Now I think you and Simon should bury your personal rivalry and get on with your work.

James: That has nothing to do with this. Go on, ask her. (turns to Cathy) Cathy, tell him.

(Cathy is silent)

Liley: It may indeed have nothing to do with Cathy. Nevertheless, I think it could easily be argued that you framed Simon because of it.

James: You wankers! You think you can actually get away with this, the three of you? You think you can brush this one under the carpet? That by blackmailing me and Del Boy you’ll get out of this? Well you’re fucking wrong. I’m not going to back down, you’re all going to pay for this. Him for thinking he could get away with it, you for being spineless, and you for protecting your beloved department at any price. You corrupt bastards. What won’t you do to get to the top of the science heap? Who wouldn’t you fuck over to get your name on the next Nature paper…or get the next fucking grant? Get fucking out. Get out of my sight!

(Grabs the tables with their coffee cups and hurls it over, then stands and stares at them as they make a move backwards)

Get out!

Cathy: No!

(Mike and Liley leave; Sandra and Cathy stand up and look astonished. Sandra starts to cry)

James: What? He made up his results. He made up his fucking results!

(Scene ends)

[Continued next week]